HC Deb 21 January 1998 vol 304 c1015 3.31 pm
Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Before we discuss the Scotland Bill next week, would you consider giving a ruling on how procedures in this House will continue to operate when the Bill becomes law? That is because, depending on your ruling, the House may well consider it prudent to amend the Bill.

The Government White Paper, "Scotland's Parliament", proclaims: The UK Parliament is and will remain sovereign in all matters". That would seem to imply that the Government do not intend Parliament to limit its own authority in any way by the Scotland Bill. However, the Scotland Bill does not contain any explicit sovereignty clause like the words used in section 75 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920, which are reflected in one of our amendments. Despite the provisions of the Government of Ireland Act, your predecessor in 1923 made a ruling:

With regard to those subjects which have been delegated to the Government of Northern Ireland, questions must be asked of Ministers in Northern Ireland, and not in this House."—[Official Report, 3 May 1923; Vol. 163, c. 1624–25.] That ruling led to a curious situation which, if replicated here, would be totally anomalous. We could ask questions of the Secretary of State for Defence about health facilities in Bosnia, or the Secretary of State for International Development about housing circumstances in Montserrat, but we could not ask about those matters in part of our own country. At the same time, Members of the Scottish Parliament will have the power to question cross-border bodies such as the new Food Standards Agency, which is not their responsibility or answerable to them; and they will be able to criticise their own Ministers on their attitudes and actions towards our UK responsibilities. Surely Members of this House should have the same reciprocal rights. Would it seriously be acceptable to rule that Ministers are not accountable for grants made to the Scottish Parliament in the same way as Ministers are accountable for grants made to local authorities and other public bodies?

Finally, Madam Speaker, page 297 of "Erskine May" reports that a procedures Committee ruled that you are not bound by previous precedents in this matter.

Madam Speaker

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of this matter. He raises a most interesting point, but I am not in a position to give a ruling at the present time. The Scotland Bill is now before the Committee of the whole House, and when all the parliamentary processes are completed, I will give full consideration to the impact of the legislation as enacted on our practice regarding the acceptability of parliamentary questions. At that time I shall give any ruling that may be required, but for the moment the legislation is in the hands of the House, and it must go through the due process in the first instance.